Covid-19 pandemic: where are we at? How data can help us to 'read' the situation


Institutional Communication Service

5 May 2020

In the fascinating world of numbers and statistics it is difficult to do forecasts or develop models - or even just interpret a given situation over time - if the available data are not reliable. Antonietta Mira, professor of statistics and director of the Data Science Lab at USI, highlights a few issues about the quality of data related to the novel coronavirus pandemic in a television interview on the News Special of Teleticino on April 18.

In the Western world we have entered phase 2 of the Covid-19 pandemic, a phase in which analysing the data collected so far is considered of fundamental importance in order to proceed with the correct measures of prevention and therefore towards a gradual return to normalcy. According to Prof. Mira, the data reported so far by official sources suffer from various forms of distortion, for example on how and when they were collected, with delays and problems of uniformity depending on the different regions and their definitions. An important example is that of Wuhan in China, where in mid-April the number of deaths was corrected by adding as many as 1290 cases, a huge correction (+50%) that occurred after the peak phase when the authorities began to double-check the data from medical and other facilities, including crematoriums, prisons and nursing homes.

How are deaths with or by coronavirus reported? "There are certain defining problems upstream," explains Prof. Mira. "If the primary cause of death is a Covid-19 infection and there are no other associated health conditions, then the death is BY coronavirus. While patients who have other concurrent causes, as is often the case for the elderly, then the question arises of how to report a death and whether to add it in the official statistics. For example, in Germany they don't do post-mortem testing, so we have a whole series of cases that could be positive but are not checked afterwards. In Italy they have now started to do these tests, which increases the number of deaths, because the way to count them has changed", explains Prof. Mira.

In her television interview, Prof. Mira shows and explains with the help of graphic charts, together with her postdoctoral assistant Anthony Ebert, the evolution of contagions in Switzerland, Europe, Italy, China and the world. "Our charts do not make predictions but simply capture the current state of the virus outbreak", Prof. Mira points out. "They allow us to answer the question, 'Where are we at?' This is an important question to understand when to start resuming activities and how".


The interview broadcast by Teleticino on April 18, 2020 (in Italian)